The Canadian Beef Industry Conference 2016 (CBIC 2016) provoked thought on many topics. Presentations by a host of food industry icons stirred the imagination of the cattle industry, a body once thought inert and cloaked so deeply in tradition and romance that any significant degree of change seemed improbable.Through two solid days of presentations, I witnessed sparks of enlightenment. Among the notables were industry’s acceptance of how important “telling the story” of producing beef in today’s marketing world had become, and its corollary of listening carefully to consumers and responding to the things they need and want.
Sam Heath, vice-president of marketing, Tim Hortons Canada, talked about branding and the dimension of not only telling what they do, but how they do it. Tim Hortons is in the business of selling coffee. Doughnuts are secondary. From 3,700 locations across Canada, Tim Hortons’ share of the coffee market is approximately 75 per cent. Much of their success depends on what Heath calls “community messaging,” things like: giving it your best, sweat and devotion, lead by example, when you come you are a part of us, and we are Canadian. Their success depends on a life-long relationship with consumers. Heath reminded the audience that a 30-second ad sells many things. Branding is not just a logo, it’s everything a company stands for and can back up.
A recent, and important, advance in the beef industry’s story and its quest for sustainability is pain control in animals, especially in young calves at the time of processing. Though pain control is just one element of responsible care and a single issue in the whole umbrella of animal welfare, it draws the askant view of the public and many consumers. Animal welfare has become the currency of progress within the livestock industry. Animal welfare advocacy defines how animals get cared for, how they are raised, how they are transported, and ultimately how they become food. The subject of animal welfare has raised the consciousness of an industry and they are no longer afraid to talk about it. At one time, public exposure threatened producers, but ultimately production practices at the farm and ranch level were transformed and concepts like pain control and prudent antibiotic use extended into corporate boardrooms. Animal welfare moved from something we were once skittish to address in an open forum to top billing at national meetings in Canada and the U.S.
The knowledge of pain in livestock has advanced steadily over the past two decades. Behavioural and physiological indicators of pain have been identified, and researchers’ ability to measure animal responses associated to painful procedures have improved. Research has developed new pain control drugs that are registered for use in cattle in Canada. Knowledge is building on the appropriate dosage, routes of administration and synergy between anesthetics and analgesics. In part, consumer pressure to avoid painful practices on cattle when possible brought about change, especially when painful procedures like castration, dehorning, or branding are necessary.
The new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle makes strong statements about pain control. The code requires:
- Castration be performed by competent personnel using proper, clean, and well-maintained tools.
- Producers seek guidance from their veterinarian regarding optimum methods, timing, and pain control.
- Animals be castrated as young as practically possible, before the age of three months and especially before weaning.
- As of January 1, 2016: use pain control when castrating bulls older than nine months.
- As of January 1, 2018: use pain control when castrating bulls older than six months.
Canadian beef producers are doing a good job at reducing the number of cattle with horns. According to the latest National Beef Quality Audit, fewer than 11 per cent of non-fed cattle and fewer than 13 per cent of fed cattle processed in Canada in 2010-11 had any type of horns. The Beef Code of Practice requires:
- Dehorning be performed by competent personnel using proper, clean, and well-maintained tools.
- Producers seek guidance from their veterinarian on pain control availability.
- Disbud calves as early as possible, while horn development is in the bud stage (two to three months of age).
- Effective January 1, 2016: use pain control in consultation with your veterinarian when dehorning after the horn bud has attached.
Among pain control products available to producers is the drug meloxicam, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) with analgesic and fever-reducing effects. Meloxicam is available in injectable and oral formulations. The oral solution was recently approved and came into the marketplace as a result of Canadian research. The product, sold through veterinarians by Solvet, is a fast, long-lasting and convenient approach to pain management. The product addresses needs set by the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Animals. It is easily administered as a drench.
Meloxicam’s use when calves are vaccinated, branded, castrated and dehorned in the spring has garnered wide acceptance amongst cattle producers. Through the spring of 2016, many producers used meloxicam for the first time during branding. With few exceptions, the drug’s use evolved into a commitment to incorporate meloxicam into routine processing protocols. Following administration of meloxicam, calves were described as more comfortable, nursed more quickly, moved more freely and mothered-up sooner. In the view of a number of producers, meloxicam helped calves overcome the stressful effects of multiple vaccines routinely administered during branding.
The livestock industry stands solidly behind responsible animal care and recognizes it as a commitment in the future of sustainable beef production. Limiting the pain and stress of necessary production practices exemplifies how industry addresses the welfare of young calves.
In a world where volumes of new information exceed the human capacity to process it and where the quest for answers to complex issues becomes the empty glare of a computer screen, simple things get forgotten. Animal care is about simple things, about thinking and doing simple things right every time.